For a few, frozen moments of yesterday's Portuguese Grand Prix here, we feared the worst as Patrese, hounding Gerhard Berger for third place, ran into the left rear wheel of the Austrian's McLaren-Honda at 160mph and was launched more than 20 feet into the air. It seemed that the Williams would flip over, or land on the pit lane approach barrier, or even on Berger.
Amazingly, it came to ground, some 100 yards on, more or less the right way up and, although the right side sheared off as it slid along the pit lane, the Italian was able to climb from the cockpit. He was visibly shaken and has a badly bruised knee, yet is otherwise unhurt. Similar accidents killed Gilles Villeneuve and severely injured his Ferrari team-mate, Didier Pironi, in 1982.
Patrese said: 'He (Berger) just braked to come into the pits and gave no signal at all. The car went straight up, air got under it and I saw the sky. I am lucky to be alive. I could have been killed.'
Berger said he could not raise his arm to indicate his intention because the fast, right-hand corner leading on to the pit straight makes that impossible. He felt he had positioned himself correctly and that he was a safe distance ahead of Patrese.
'It was a kind of misunderstanding,' Berger said. 'I felt a touch, saw him coming over me and was really afraid, because I thought it was going to be a big accident. I am very sorry for what happened and I'm really happy that Riccardo is OK.'
Patrese appeared to be seeking a tow before making his routine overtaking move along the straight. Williams spoke to the stewards over the incident, but the official conclusion was that it was a misunderstanding between the two drivers. That was also the verdict of most observers.
Mansell saw the remains of his team-mate's car as he came round on the following lap but was assured, by his radio, that Patrese was all right. His only concern then was to avoid the debris, some of which disabled JJ Lehto's Dallara- Ferrari. Mansell, who switches to Indycars next season, was able to continue his passage to the 30th win of his Formula One career.
Berger went on to take second place, immediately ahead of his partner, Ayrton Senna, whose progress was interrupted by recurring tyre problems. Britain's Martin Brundle, driving a Benetton- Ford, maintained his consistent form with fourth place. Mika Hakkinen, in a Lotus-Ford, was fifth and Michele Alboreto brought home his Footwork- Mugen Honda, in sixth place.
Mansell, starting from pole, assumed control at the first corner and maintained it throughout. His devastating opening burst gave him the breathing space to negotiate his tyre stop with due care and attention. It was here, last year, where his right rear wheel came adrift. Indeed, Patrese had been delayed at his stop when a rear jack broke.
The Englishman re-emerged from the pit lane a couple of seconds ahead of Senna and went away again. It was the first success for Renault's RS4 engine and achieved with a new mix of Elf fuel, which contains beetroot juice.
The chemistry between Senna and Alain Prost, who was confirmed yesterday as a Williams- Renault driver for 1993, appears as volatile as ever. Senna, denied a place alongside the Frenchman, greeted the announcement by saying: 'If Prost wants to come back in a sporting way he should be sporting and allow us to have a fair fight. Everything has been laid out before him. It is like giving him running shoes and the rest of us lead boots.'
It is doubtful, of course, whether Senna would have complained had he been provided with the running shoes and Prost the lead boots, but then it is every man for himself in this game. Senna is awaiting developments in McLaren's negotiations for engines before deciding whether to stay with the team. It now seems unlikely, however, they will succeed in acquiring a supply from Renault.
Prost is due to test the Williams here tomorrow, while the team continues to ponder the choice of his partner. The main contenders are said to be Patrese and Brundle, although there have been discussions concerning the Lotus pair, Hakkinen and Johnny Herbert, the Englishman forced into early retirement yesterday. Both are under contract and the subject of compensation may be a stumbling block.
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